serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging

Courage

Posted by Jim Selman on 11/2/06

I can’t remember who said “Growing Old isn’t for Sissies”, but the phrase shows up frequently in conversations and workshops on growing older. It is one of those ‘true/cute’ maxims that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. This blog is about enrolling everyone in the idea that older age is something to look forward to and not fear or resist. So it is probably worth spending some moments reflecting on this phrase. It suggests that we need to have courage as we grow older.

Yes, we do need courage to grow older. Not because old age is inherently threatening or difficult. We need courage because every day we are faced with a choice. It is the choice that is implicit or explicit in virtually every spiritual discipline — the choice between surrendering, accepting life on life’s terms, being grateful for the life we have, and celebrating our relationship with the Mystery, and resisting, complaining, resenting, regretting, and, to one degree or another, suffering the decline and loss that has become hallmark of the culture of aging in most of the Western world.

Choosing to accept life on its own terms takes courage, particularly if you’ve focused your time and energy on pursuing accomplishment and trying to control all the various elements in your life. The longer I live, the clearer I become that, at the end of the day, we do not have the control we thought we had. Courage isn’t about being strong or being the last person standing. It is about having the wisdom and dignity to acknowledge your vulnerability, while continuing to generate and be responsible for actions that hopefully will assist others and leave the world a bit better than you found it. Courage is a brave combination of openness and strength, insight, action and service.

I think that beneath our fears and uncertainty we all have this kind of courage and a deep and abiding desire to make a difference, to leave something of our life experience and learning behind, if only for our children.

I wrote in Old isn’t Elder that being an Elder is a role granted by a community and not an entitlement of longevity. What I didn’t say is that Elders are courageous in that they have declared a willingness to keep on giving until their last day, regardless of their circumstances. They are willing to ‘let go’ of the past and relate to the future as a constantly expanding space of possibility and opportunity to contribute.

I don’t think I appreciated Elders when I was growing up. Today, I realize they were the people who remained there for me even when I was too busy to notice and when I was so full of myself that I couldn’t listen to their wise counsel. I now thank them for their patience and compassion and for the courage they had to keep on giving—even when no one was listening.

© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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One Response to “Courage”

  1. Stuart said

    once, I heard a twig snap
    deep in a forest’s gloom
    I froze, looked about, saw nothing
    heard nothing save cricket’s scrape
    yet hackles pricked at nape of neck
    fear had made my eyes full wide
    to all the horrors lurking for me

    I called in faltering voice: who’s there?
    then even insect noise fell silent, so
    not the faintest breath of wind
    stirred the brooding poplar leaves
    but still I stood with squint and glare
    there was no sound: there’s nothing there?

    I tried to flee, confusion reigned
    what did I want? where could I run?
    each path presented promise, help
    but curved away in shadowed glades
    denying certainty; danger, then?
    do we fear what is always known?
    or unknown? what do I know for sure?

    courage, it seems to me quite simply,
    lies in the will to act: deliberate choice
    despite all threats, real or imagined
    for believing is the foundation of action
    faith is the substance of things hoped for
    and the evidence of things not seen
    as the book of Hebrews tells it

    one must see all imagined possibilities
    dismissing those which fear makes large
    courage can make my eyes wider still
    to all that’s possible in the love of you

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